People often ask me why I started painting and what it is that motivates me to keep going? The least complicated answer – and probably the most honest – is simply: to get good at it. That’s why I do it. One day I hope that happens. Meanwhile, I continue chipping away at my painting in the hope of drawing closer to that ever-elusive, difficult-to-define artistic-breakthrough – the breakthrough that can elevate a painting from the realm of fine-art to …another level …whatever or wherever that level might be…to that place where an artist really does seem to have captured the very essence of light, of movement, of space, of time and of emotion … in paint and on canvas.
Twenty-five years ago, I made what some people viewed as a logical transition – the transition from my job in what was the apprenticed-trade of working as an “old-school” Signwriter-Pictorialist to that of being a Plein Air/Fine Artist …a peintuer.
To most people, a transition like that – from one field of painting to another – appeared to be a fairly straightforward transition. It was all quite understandable (even logical) because, after all, the transition involved nothing more than exchanging a signwriter’s trade-brushes, paints, easels, painting and drawing skills for …..well, yes…… the same brushes, paints, easels, painting and drawing skills as a fine artist. And whilst all of that is no doubt partially true, personally I found the transition wasn’t as seamless as that at all – in fact it was as abrupt as a bricklayer thinking he might seamlessly swap places with a monumental architect. For me, there were of course synergies and overlapping skill-sets in both the trade of art (signwriting) and in the art of Art (fine painting). The technical precision and commercial imperative required in the trade of old-school signwriting, whilst distantly related, finds no real place in the world of ‘Plein Air painting, Impressionism, or the fine arts in general – with very few exceptions – the most famous exception being the works of Warhol – famous enough to need no mention at all.
So what really is the attraction of plein air painting for me? Part of it is the adventure of being there, in situ, in real-time, in the environment with my subject, in its mood, with our emotions and my tools – my paints, brushes and my easel. The first challenge in painting an image on canvas that I hope will look and feel the same as the one I’m looking out at from my easel is to somehow capture all the fragile and abstract ephemeral items – things like fleeting light, floating shadow, changing mood and subjective atmosphere. It is to capture these living, moving, dying elements that I take my easel out into the open on location in the first place. To be able to see, feel, smell, touch and hear the subject – to interact with it, sympathise with it, to empathise with it and then to really paint it is what drives me to paint.
My aim as a painter is to capture – with minimal brushwork – scenes as varied as landscape vistas featuring rolling hills, dramatic bluffs, flowing streams and leaping falls – to simple scenes like that of an old man seated on a park bench reading a newspaper in the light of some winter sun. Such is the challenge.
As an ambitious younger artist, I doubt my experiences were very different to others on similar journeys and experiencing a similar sense of progress in technique that seemed to happen swiftly in the beginning for many of us – progress that brought with it a sense of technical satisfaction. But soon after the initial satisfaction faded, I’d find that far from having arrived at what I thought might have been the destination, I’d only arrived at the first inevitable artistic plateau. Climbing to the next plateau required some sort of breakthrough. Breakthroughs are the most elusive element in an artist’s palette – certainly my own. Each breakthrough is followed by yet another plateau – the spacing between them growing further apart and more difficult to achieve with the passage of time and with the inevitable pain of self-doubt that every artist must learn to live with. As painters,it’s not unusual for us to become dissatisfied with the quality of our work. We long for one last breakthrough – the one thing that seems to be holding us back. The breakthrough we often seek becomes symptomatic of our own critical eye’s having evolved past our actual ability to paint what we envisioned in the first place. That is another challenge.
My mission as an artist is to continue to breakthrough – to evolve and to keep learning to paint more broadly, more suggestively – to provoke a sense of transportation, to connect more powerfully and emotionally with the viewer. Most of all, to continue painting honestly, with my heart and soul put into all my works – I hope it might be said that – in whatever form it takes – some unique style has managed to breakthrough into my paintings.
Breaking-through – the most important challenge in art.